"We villagers now can drink clean tap water as urban residents do," said Zhao Caihong, with a broad smile on her face. "We used to fetch water from rivers that were often contaminated with the livestock's excrement and urine."
Zhao is also happy and contented that her family moved last year from an old shanty into a big new one, benefiting from a government-funded house renovation project.
Zhao and some 250 other families live in an outlying mountain village called Shangping, in Xihaigu region, the poorest part of northwest China's underdeveloped Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.
One year ago, much like so many other poverty-stricken villages in the country, it still suffered from low family incomes, poor transportation conditions and a shortage of clean drinking water.
However, things have begun changing as the government focuses more on the vast rural areas.
"Last year alone the government poured 1.2 million yuan (about US$150,000) into improving our infrastructure and training and encouraging villagers to find jobs in cities," said Wang Dianzhong, head of the village committee.
The village used part of the funds to build a new dirt road, which winds through surrounding mountains to the outside world. Families with televisions can watch eight channels of programs since microwave antennae were installed in their homes.
Shangping, like other outlying and poor villages across the country, is beginning to share the outcome of China's galloping growth.
As the most populous developing country, China has most of its impoverished population concentrated in the rural areas. Since 1978, the Chinese government has moved away from a planned economy and pushed market reforms, as well as liberalizing the rural economy, raising rural productivity and alleviating widespread poverty through the household responsibility system.
Furthermore, in the mid-1980s the Chinese government started systematic, mass poverty reduction and development efforts. As a result, the number of impoverished people without adequate food and clothing declined from 250 million in 1978 to 23.6 million at the end of 2005, with the share of the population living in poverty falling from 30 percent to less than three percent. China has achieved the first Millennium Development Goal of the United Nations well ahead of the target date of 2015.
"In the pursuit of poverty alleviation and development, China has charted its own path, suitable for its own conditions. This path involves government leadership, social participation, self-reliance, an orientation toward economic development, and an integrated development approach," said Liu Jian, director of the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development.
In addition to incorporating poverty alleviation and development into overall economic and social strategies, the Chinese government has increased budgetary allocations for poverty alleviation. Between 1986 and 2004, the total budget support allocated reached 112.6 billion yuan (US$14 billion), and subsidized loans reached 162 billion yuan (US$20 billion).
In 2005 the budgetary support for poverty alleviation totaled 13 billion yuan. To ensure that budgetary poverty funds reach the designated impoverished farmers, the use of funds is to be proclaimed, published, or reimbursed, adding transparency and public supervision.
In addition to government efforts, China has taken a number of steps to mobilize and organize people in all walks of life, including in the eastern coastal provinces and in multi-level party and government organs, to join the development and construction effort in poverty-stricken regions.
The government has organized 15 eastern provinces and municipalities to support development in 11 corresponding poverty-stricken provinces, autonomous regions and cities in western regions. It has organized 116 central party and government organs and 156 large state firms to help and support 481 key targeted counties. And it has organized all social sectors to participate in the process of closing the country's yawning income gap.
The Glorious Enterprise program encourages private firms to invest in impoverished areas. The Hope Project organized by the Communist Youth League Central Committee sponsors children in poor households to finish compulsory education. The non-communist parties in the country organized the Knowledge-oriented Poverty Alleviation Program, utilizing their own advantages to help poor regions extend practical technologies. The Happiness Project organized by the Chinese Population Foundation sponsors poor mothers, and the Women-oriented Poverty Alleviation Program organized by the All-China Women's Federation aims to increase women's income.
From December 2005 to February this year, the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation (CFPA), the largest of its kind in the country for poverty relief, invited bids from 10 Chinese and foreign NGOs for implementing a village-level poverty alleviation project in 22 key poverty-stricken villages of east China's Jiangxi Province, under the entrustment of Jiangxi Provincial Poverty Alleviation and Development Office.
Six NGOs were chosen in April 2006. They were Heifer Project International from the United States, Jiangxi Provincial Association Promoting Mountain-River-Lake Regional Sustainable Development, Jiangxi Youth Development Foundation, the Ningxia Center for Poverty Alleviation and Environment Improvement, China Association for NGO Cooperation and Research Association for Women and Family.
Under the scenario, the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Jiangxi Provincial Poverty Alleviation and Development Office will provide a budgetary allocation of 11 million yuan (US$1.35 million) to the six NGOs for implementing the project in six townships in the counties of Le'an, Xingguo and Ningdu in Jiangxi Province. Each village is to gain access to 500,000 yuan. The project is scheduled to complete in 2007.
Farmers who are accustomed to government-sponsored poverty relief are amazed at the new mode. "NGOs are different from government projects in poverty relief. NGO workers would come to our homes and talk patiently on everything with each of us," said Dong Xiaoping, a farmer with Liukeng Village in Le'an County.
"If we succeed in accomplishing the project, we may find a way to improve the management mechanism of domestic poverty reduction funds and promote the subsistence and development of domestic NGOs," said Duan Yingbi, president of the CFPA.
With assistance from government and all walks of life, China also highlights the approach for poverty relief -- to support poor people and encourage them to overcome the common attitude of "wait, depend on, and ask" and establish a spirit of self-reliance and hard work, said Liu Jian.
Despite tremendous success in poverty alleviation in recent decades, China is now confronted with poverty issues in relatively remote areas that are generally beyond the effective reach of government programs.
"In the future, China will continue to relieve poverty in the model of developing the whole village together, which means taking one poor village as a unit and tackling the problems one by one, and ensuring that the allocated money is really spent on the needy," said Wang Guoliang, deputy director of the Office of Poverty Relief under the State Council, or the central government.
For this purpose, China is testing a new approach to poverty reduction for 100,000 poor farmers in 60 administrative villages in Shaanxi and Sichuan provinces, and in Guangxi and Inner Mongolia autonomous regions.
On June 1, 2006, the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development and the World Bank jointly launched a two-year, US$8 million pilot program that promotes stronger village involvement in how development funds are used in their communities.
The pilot program, known as the Community-Driven Development Program (CDDP), is expected to improve the targeting of poverty alleviation funds, by allowing poor people to manage funds in pursuit of their own priorities, according to the World Bank.
Participating poor communities will be given responsibility to manage program funds and implement small-scale infrastructure and public service improvements, the bank's China mission said.
"This CDDP pilot will promote more participation from villagers in project planning and implementation and encourage new ways for local governments to provide services to poor areas and poor people," Wang Guoliang said.
Under the pilot program, the 60 participating administrative villages will receive grants that are intended to be used to improve living conditions and incomes. Within each administrative village, smaller village units will compete for access to program grants through a participatory process.
The pilot program, modeled in part on other community-driven development programs operating elsewhere in Asia by the World Bank, is expected to cost 64 million yuan (US$8 million).
"If successful, the program could be implemented nationally and help millions of villagers make their own decisions on grassroots economic and social development. And aspects of the program that prove successful could potentially be integrated into China's Village Development Planning Program," said Wang Guoliang.
Initiated in 2001, the whole-village-toward-poverty-alleviation-and-development program has operated throughout China in 148,000 officially designated poor villages. They are home to some 80 percent of the country's impoverished people. Each year, the country focuses on improving production and living conditions in key villages. In four years, by 2010, China will fundamentally change the impoverished appearance of those villages.
(Xinhua News Agency October 6, 2006)